INSIGHT-A giant storm and the struggle over closing Wall St

Tue Oct 30, 2012 2:30am EDT
 
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By John McCrank

NEW YORK Oct 30 (Reuters) - At 6:30 p.m. on Sunday night, with Hurricane Sandy bearing down on the U.S. East Coast, New York Stock Exchange operator NYSE Euronext had more immediate problems: a revolt from the trading firms that are its lifeblood.

NYSE officials, including global head of sales Christine Sandler, told the firms that while the exchange would shut down its physical trading floor it was planning to open for business on Monday as an electronic-only trading venue for the first time.

But dealers trading shares were skeptical, according to interviews with about a dozen people privy to discussions including senior exchange officials, Wall Street executives, traders and other sources.

The final choice after more than two days of discussions, these sources said, came down to this: whether to use an unproven system to keep the markets open while risking employees' safety, or close for the day and play it safe.

If the NYSE had opened for business its electronic systems may have had to handle more than double the volume it had averaged in recent weeks, a prospect that worried market participants already reeling from a series of embarrassing market snafus this year.

The firms also did not want their employees to have to report to work in the midst of the worst storm to hit New York City since at least 1938, a storm that was forecast to bring flooding, punishing winds and widespread power outages.

"It was, 'Please don't do this. The market is not ready'," one of the sources said.

Late on Sunday night, the NYSE and other exchanges finally decided to close the market on Monday, the first time the Big Board had done so for bad weather since Hurricane Gloria in 1985. While the NYSE took the lead in closing trading in stocks and options, the final decision was collectively taken by all the exchanges, including Nasdaq OMX and CME Group Inc .   Continued...